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Technical Illustrations for Nuclear Plant Maintenance

A Picture Paints a 100-Page Scheduling Document

Nuclear power plant maintenance project manager Tim explains how he uses Canvas not only to illustrate technical tasks but also to visualize huge scheduling documents in a single Canvas image.

Mike Hibberd
May 29, 2020

Nuclear reactor complexities

Objects don’t come much more complex than nuclear reactors, and the work undertaken by Canvas user Tim and the teams he leads at a world-leading nuclear energy technology company in maintaining these feats of engineering offers no margin for error.

Maintenance work must be timed to precision to minimize disruption, which means every task and its time frame must be communicated with absolute clarity.

Visualizing nuclear reactor components

Tim uses Canvas to visualize the reactor components which are being worked on and the work which is required, which is a technical illustration use case familiar to many Canvas users. But he also uses it to create visual representations of the schedule of work itself, both for his team and for the customers that run the reactors.

He began creating what are effectively giant and incredibly complex Gantt Charts in response to the challenges teams had interacting with the P6 scheduling documents which were typically used to communicate a plan of work.

“A P6 schedule for the types of projects we work on might be over 100 pages long,” he explains. “The guys on my team don’t want to flip all the pages and read all those words; what they want are illustrations. These schedules can drive you nuts; they’re not laid out in a way that many people can easily understand.”

“No scheduling program we have used can represent this much information in a single sheet”

Technical illustration of scheduling document

The key requirement for a schedule that describes the kind of projects Tim works on is that it communicates essential information with great efficiency, in a manner which is very clear to the observer.

He likens the visual schedules he creates to the dashboard of a car, which tells you everything you need to know in a moment, without needing to be studied at length.

“What’s really important is for people on the team and our customers to have information at-a-glance,” he says.

The importance of ‘information at a glance’

Abstract technical illustraton

“I started drawing these schedules in Canvas,” Tim explains. “I can scale Canvas to fit the schedule for the duration of the maintenance activities, so each hour is represented on the graphic. The file is saved to a .png format and displayed on a local network.

“Everything that needs to happen in the project is visible in that one image and I just don’t know of any other application that can do this. No scheduling program we have used can represent this much information in a single sheet.”

What started out as a means of optimizing communication among his team quickly expanded into a means of keeping a much broader audience of stakeholders informed of work in progress, he says.

“When the customer saw what we were doing, they asked for access to the schedule I had created. So, we provided various monitors up to 65-inch and displayed the schedule around the plant, including in the control room, and we made it available as a page on their intranet. Everyone could see exactly what was happening at any given moment. It stopped the phone from ringing so we could get on with our work.”

“I just don’t know of any other application that can do this.”

Tim’s innovative approach is being adopted more widely by his colleagues and customers, which is important as the wealth of expertise which exists among the people who designed and built these plants is at risk of depletion as these people reach retirement.

“Now customers are asking for all schedules to be represented this way because everybody loves the visuals. People struggle to focus on endless paragraphs of text. And the guys who built these plants are now retiring, and a lot of knowledge is going with them, so for the new young guys out of college, this is really, really helpful.”

Canvas Originals Badge

Tim is an innovator and a true Canvas Original.

One of the great things about Canvas software is that it provides a platform for innovation. Tim is not only an expert Canvas user but a genuine innovator in the way the product can be put to work. This is the first time we’ve heard of Canvas being used to create giant scheduling documents, and the fact that these Canvas images are now in high demand from Tim’s customers is testament to his ingenuity in the field of visual communication.

If you would like to participate in the Canvas Originals series, please email mike.hibberd@canvasgfx.com

About the author
Mike Hibberd
VP Marketing

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